Opportunity in a global pandemic.

Opportunity in a global pandemic full 1


The global pandemic has accelerated the need for transformation.


In a post-Covid world, talent requirements will inevitably shift but how will hiring patterns and processes accommodate this? Elbo spoke to experienced CIO Conor Maguire about the impact of Covid-19, what new skills organisations will need and how remote recruitment could change how we think about finding top tech stars.


Q. Covid19 has forced all organisations to step back and reassess operations. Is long-term change inevitable?


CM: I think we will see some long-lasting change. As lockdown lifts, there has been some return to pre-Covid behaviour, socially and economically, but I don’t think things will return exactly as they were. The shift in mindset is probably more fundamental.

For example, a renewed focus on financial stability is an inevitable consequence for most companies. All are now thinking about survival and how they would be able to bear the impact if we had a crisis like this again. As an organisation, risk taking is more acceptable when you have access to debt so I think we will see businesses being a bit more conservative, with a focus on cash and less debt, and this will last for a while to come.

Personal safety and security are also key considerations as we think about future operations and the future of work. Lockdown has created a lot of fear and some will take a while to get back to normal engagements and social interactions with the outside world. These human dynamics will impact us on a macro level across industry and business. Add to this that people are anticipating a second spike and, again, I think it’s unlikely we will see any real return to normality until a vaccine becomes available. It will take some time for the memory of the coronavirus pandemic to fade.


Q. How will businesses balance the need for financial stability and less debt with the need to innovate and invest in the future?


CM: Many businesses will be in a position to weather the temporary economic impact of Covid19. However, there is a recognition that the economic impact of the lockdown will be significant, so I think the investment community will temper their obsession for growth.

I think companies moving into the economic recovery stage of the pandemic will feel less pressure to demonstrate year on year growth. This creates a unique opportunity to look at your operating model. For example, initiatives can be redirected towards sustainability or setting the business up for future growth. My own company, which focuses on Legal Tech, and the legal sector generally is taking the chance to innovate in areas like digital signing which is seeing rapid adoption in a socially distanced environment.

Covid19 is forcing transformations, whereas letting them happen organically would have probably taken several years. Not all businesses will be able to take advantage of this if cash flow has stopped, but, again, those which can weather the crisis and come out the other side will have adapted their business models to address new challenges ahead.

We went on to ask Conor about the role of the workforce in organisational recovery, whether in-demand skills would change and if the recruitment process was fit for purpose in a post-Covid world.


Q: Will talent continue to be the organisation’s most important asset?


CM: The short answer is yes, but there is going to be a different view on people as an asset. If companies are looking to transform or even make small changes to their operating model, they are going to need people with change management experience, those who can identify how to improve things and implement that change.

If, for example, your business model has been solely focused on financial performance and profitability, your teams are going to be focused on cutting costs, perhaps not transformation.

Of course, not all companies will be in a position to transform; their focus will be on financial stability and cost management. Sometimes talent falls down the priority list when you are reducing cost. Similarly, sometimes the talent you want to keep goes out of the door when you are cost cutting.


Q. What will future talent look like? How do you think the delay of IR35 will play out?


CM: The issue of where we go from here puts a different lens on talent. Companies are questioning what talent in a post-Covid19 world should look like and where they need agents of change rather than individuals focused on performance. The world has changed, dynamics have changed – how does this impact the operating model and people we now need in the business?

Demand for technical skills will, of course, continue as organisations look to transform. There will almost certainly be a focus on automation, digitisation and generally how a company can leverage technology to be better and more efficient than it was before.

When we think about IR35, we need to put it in the context of Government debt. Following years of austerity, the Government simply doesn’t have the cost cutting opportunities that existed at the start of the financial crisis in 2008. I don’t know how the Government will pay back all of this newly acquired debt. One way I’m sure they’ll use is to increase taxes. Contractor income has been on the radar of HMRC for quite a long time so I think this latest postponement won’t be extended.


Q: How will companies adapt to IR35?


CM: It’s an interesting challenge if you have the ‘three-month project’ – how do you hire for it? I think we will see greater demand for established service providers, this is the approach I have taken in previous tech leadership roles. I’m not sure if other companies will take this approach, especially considering there are a huge number of contractors currently on multi-year projects. The question is, should these be done by employees instead?


Q: Do you think the way we source and hire top talent will change as a result of Covid19, did it need to change anyway?


CM: When we think about hiring and the approach we take, the fixation on quantity over quality of candidates has to change. Recruitment processes are very much about conditioning rather than taking the best route. When we’re busy we tend to revert to the ‘old way of doing things’ and this has generally dictated that getting more CVs or having access to more candidates, is the best approach, regardless of quality.

The process usually runs as follows: we go to an agency, they give a pile of CVs, we go through the CVs, we create a shortlist, we hire someone and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Hiring people is difficult, especially using traditionally methods. What if I get it wrong? Candidates can say all the right things but does that mean they are a good fit for the role?

We have a tolerance for failure in recruitment. Using the current processes, it’s to be expected that you won’t get it right every time and that a percentage of new hires won’t work out.

When it comes to hiring, recruiters tend to fall back on convention. If we try a new way and get it wrong, people will question ‘why you didn’t use the old method’? We also have to remember that often HR or recruitment teams within businesses aren’t ‘change’ people – they are process-driven and rely on tried and tested ways of doing things. That said, businesses themselves have to adapt and give people permission to do things differently if we want to see a shift in the way we bring people onboard.


Q: How useful are CVs when it comes to assessing a candidate’s suitability for a role?


CM: What you can draw from a CV about a candidate it limited. If we think about today’s processes, it’s very much about keyword matching and volume. What I love about Elbo’s platform and why I have used it when recruiting, is that it’s not about keywords, it’s about characteristics. It’s about saying ‘you’re this type of person, and so you work best for this type of job’. Of course, you still need to match on skills and experience, but we should first be asking the question ‘are you the right type of person with the right characteristics for this job?’

Using the current models, recruitment is hard. It usually comes down to a gut-feel about whether someone is right for the role, you have to make a judgement call.

During lockdown, I have been recruiting remotely which has to be done online and over video calls. This has highlighted many of the problems with our traditional recruiting methods. Meeting someone in person gives you a sense of how they will fit within your team but this hasn’t been possible during the pandemic. It’s really hard to look at how a candidate interacts or behaves over a video call. It’s also made us question the value of using agencies which would essentially be conducting the same video interview as us – in a Covid19 environment we may as well recruit people directly.

That said, we need to find better ways of sourcing good candidates. I don’t want 10,000 CVs! I want a capability that matches so I only look at the top ten best people for the job. If we think about the process of recruitment, what does the volume quotient achieve? It doesn’t help me. Add to this that we are all now having to interview remotely, and so are restricted in how we intuitively assess a candidate’s personality traits and character, and it’s clear we need better, more in-depth information and matching.


Q: What does the future hold in terms of how we hire?


CM: I hope we will see a change in mindset when it comes to hiring and how we approach it. Covid19 has forced remote working so we need to rethink how we assess and interview people, it’s less about judging someone in a social context and more about the information you have on a candidate prior to shortlisting.

What Elbo has done is made me articulate what I am looking for in terms of characteristics, personality, skills set and capabilities. In a remote world, we need to find another way of gaining confidence that a candidate has what we are looking for and Elbo offers that.

Conor Maguire, CIO, Dye & Durham

Conor Maguire

Conor is a technology leader and strategist, with over 20 years of experience in IT leadership. His background includes building high-performance teams in fast-growing start-ups like ioki.com and established multinational institutions like the Royal Bank of Scotland and Arriva Plc. With a focus on efficiency, he leads digital transformations and lays the foundation for powerful operational infrastructures. Conor brings extensive knowledge in helping organizations adapt to rapidly growing business models. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary.


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